Eug ne Atget was a commercial photographer who spent 30 years producing more than 8000 pictures of Paris and its surrounding countryside before his death in 1927, when American photographer Berenice Abbott purchased his archives. Though he was unknown during his lifetime, his place in photography continues to grow; at times, he seems to be the Gallic brother of Walker Evans. Was Atget's aim to produce a kind of travel guide to a part of France he revered or to capture the elegance of places, courtyards, and gardens for wealthy clients? We will never know, but both of these books sum up the mystery of his intent and the serenity of his camera eye by describing his work as "enigmatic." Szarkowski, who may be our best navigator through images of light--he was director of the department of photography at MoMA from 1962 to 1991--carefully gathers 100 photographs, taking us through a sepia-toned era where Atget's silence abounds as he lovingly describes what the photographer captured. The Getty book, part of the museum's "In Focus" series, is less ambitious and might serve as a small but representative introduction to the special legacy of Atget. Useful descriptions accompanying each picture will help students, but the black-and-white reproduction and the two-column text make the images seem colder and the book less inviting than Szarkowski's sepia and margin-to-margin text. Where budgets allow, Szarkowski's approach to Atget is recommended, with the Getty version a second choice.--David Bryant, New Canaan Lib., CT Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
There is a poignant silence to these photographs taken of Paris at the turn of the previous century. They are pictures of storefronts, alleys, parks, riverbanks, streetscapes, street vendors, sculptures, bridges, stairways, details of ironwork, and other objects of Atget's everyday world. Everything in these photographs is remarkably still--moving objects became nothing but a ghostly blur in the photograph--and it lends an aura of austerity to them. People often lurk in various corners and aren't immediately perceptible, though when located are typically staring at the viewer, curious about this man with a camera.
Atget considered himself a maker of documents, intending his images to be used by artists, set designers, historians, craftsmen, and, eventually, national institutions. His over 8,500 photographs taken from the 1890s to his death in 1927 "compose a pictorial encyclopedia of the city in which he lived and that he sought to possess visually." He ive vacuum of authentic Indian authors and works. His repertoire includes short stories, fiction, poetry, screen plays, and the first ever big screen motion picture written, directed, and acted by Indians: Smoke Signals.
If still using the word Indian is an issue for the reader, Alexie addresses this on the very first page of One Stick Song. During a PEN American panel on Indian Literature, Alexie, along with other Indian writers spoke to a mostly non-Indian audience of two or three hundred people. "'Why do you insist on calling yourselves Indian?' asks a white woman in a nice hat. 'It's so demeaning.' 'Listen,' I say. 'The word belongs to us now. We are Indians, pronounced In-din. It belongs to us. We own it and we're not going togive it back.' So much has been taken from us that we hold onto the smallest things left with all the strength we have."
Alexie reveals much with his sweet sarcasm that is endearing in its honest truth. On the subject of often confusing family ties in Indian country: "They are my cousins, meaning we are related in the Indian way. My father drank beer with their father for most of two decades, and that is enough to make us relatives. Indians gather relatives like firewood, protection against the cold."
There are tough and gritty parts to this book, brutal reality, and rough language. There is the close bond of family and elders in juxtaposition with dysfunctional relationships between family members, the rez, and the "townies," the Tribe, and the U.S. Government. This dysfunction filters down to the younger residents of the reservation as is illustrated in "The Mice War." The necessity to laugh in the face of avoidable and spectacular fatalities, to keep going is a very real part of Indian life.
This book is an important link in the chain of U.S. literary history, one that has been weak if not absent for centuries. As in Indian country, the humorous outweighs insurmountable grief, and Alexie hits the mark with deadly accuracy. "If a book about Indians contains no dogs, then it was written by a non-Indian...."